5 myths about glaucoma you need to know

The dangers of glaucoma lie in its gradual progression and the fact that it often does not cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages. Picture: Mark Arron Smith/Pexels

The dangers of glaucoma lie in its gradual progression and the fact that it often does not cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages. Picture: Mark Arron Smith/Pexels

Published Mar 8, 2024


Did you know that glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness worldwide, affecting over 70 million people? In South Africa, the disease affects around 5% of the total population.

Additionally, vision loss is one of the leading causes of disability in South Africa, accounting for 32% of all disabilities combined.

Glaucoma is a serious eye condition that can lead to vision loss and blindness if left untreated. It occurs when there is damage to the optic nerve, often caused by increased pressure within the eye.

This pressure can result from a build-up of fluid that does not drain properly, leading to damage of the optic nerve and loss of peripheral vision.

The dangers of glaucoma lie in its gradual progression and the fact that it often does not cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages.

As a result, many people may not realize they have glaucoma until they have already experienced significant vision loss. This is why regular eye exams are crucial for early detection and treatment.

As we recognise World Glaucoma Week this month, celebrated from March 10 - 16, Fedhealth medical aid shines a spotlight on the importance of addressing some common myths about glaucoma and replacing them with the facts.

This will help raise awareness and understanding of the condition, ultimately promoting early detection and treatment to prevent vision loss.

Myth 1: Glaucoma develops gradually

Glaucoma can develop slowly over time, but there are actually two types of the disease: angle (chronic) glaucoma, which develops gradually, and angle-closure (acute) glaucoma, which can occur suddenly if the fluid drainage from the eye is blocked.

This sudden pressure can lead to sudden-onset glaucoma, which is considered a medical emergency and can cause blindness if not treated promptly.

Additionally, if one eye is affected, there's a high risk of it occurring in the other eye as well.

Myth 2: Glaucoma only affects older people

While it is true that people over 40 are at a greater risk of developing glaucoma and account for most cases, there are also other risk factors at play that can affect younger people too.

These include having conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, or taking medication such as migraine tablets or eye drops containing cortisone.

Being short or far-sighted is also a risk factor, and this can occur at any age. If you fall within any of these categories, it’s worth getting checked annually for glaucoma so that it can be treated early.

Myth 3: Glaucoma will always result in blindness

If you receive the right treatment, the risk of glaucoma causing permanent blindness is low. The good news is that if you have a South African medical aid, glaucoma is part of the 25 chronic conditions covered under the Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMB).

This means that regardless of your medical aid plan, including basic hospital plans, a certain level of medication and treatment is typically covered.

Myth 4: It’s obvious when you have it

There are usually no symptoms or warning signs of glaucoma until your vision is significantly affected, which is why it’s often referred to as the “silent thief of sight”.

In many countries, up to half the number of people with glaucoma don’t know that they have the disease. Thankfully, diagnosing glaucoma is relatively easy through a series of quick and painless tests, and treatment is usually highly effective.

Myth 5: There’s no treatment for glaucoma

Currently, there is no cure for glaucoma – but there are many treatment options which can manage the disease. All treatments aim to help control the pressure on the eye, and this can be done in one of two ways.

The first method is to decrease fluid production using eye drops, pills or both. The other method is to increase fluid draining out of the eye, which reduces pressure inside the eye and decreases the damage to the optic nerve.

This can be done via eye drops, eye laser treatment or surgery, depending on the case. The aim of all treatments is to prevent further damage to the optic nerve and preserve your existing vision.

While glaucoma can be a potentially devastating disease, diagnosing it and treating it is relatively straightforward – provided it’s diagnosed early.

As with anything health-related, prevention is better than cure, so if you think you may be at risk, this is even more reason to look after your health and have the necessary checks done regularly by an eye specialist.